U.S. President Donald Trump greeted three U.S. nationals, Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk (Tony Kim) and Kim Hak-song, at the Andrews Air Force Base early on Thursday.
The trio, who had been detained in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), returned to the U.S. with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
The former detainees issued a statement, released by the State Department, thanking the U.S. government, President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for securing their release.
The three Americans had been in DPRK custody since April 2016, April 2017, and May 2017 respectively due to espionage or “hostile acts.”
Trump and First Lady Melania walked up the stairs to board the plane after it landed at Joint Base Andrews, a military base outside Washington, DC, at around 2:40 a.m. (0640 GMT).
They emerged a few minutes later with the three former detainees to the cheers of watching military personnel. All three former prisoners smiled. Two lifted their arms above their heads and made “V for victory” signs.
“Special night for these three really great people,” Trump said. “The fact that we were able to get them out so soon was really a tribute to a lot of people including a certain process that’s taking place right now.”
Referring to the possibility of reaching a denuclearization deal with the DPRK, Trump said: “We will see if we can do something that people did not think was going to happen for many, many years and a lot of bad things could have happened in between.”
“My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula,” he said, adding that he really believed the Kim Jong Un wanted to bring his country “into the real world.”
Before the release of the three, the only American released by the DPRK during Trump’s presidency was Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old university student who returned to the United States in a coma last summer after 17 months of captivity and died days later.
Warmbier’s death escalated U.S.-DPRK tensions, already running high at the time over Pyongyang’s stepped-up missile tests.
A White House spokeswoman said they would be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in nearby Maryland for further medical evaluation.
The release was praised by the White House as a “gesture of goodwill” and appeared to signal an effort by Kim to set a more favorable mood for the summit. It followed his recent pledge to suspend missile tests and shut a nuclear bomb test site.
(With input from Reuters)